Are There Genetic Differences Based on Race? A New Set of Books Explores the Issue
Are there racial disparities in healthcare? Yes. Do doctors treat patients differently based on race? Yes, most studies show this to be the case. Well, an several exciting new books have been released that study the genetic differences among blacks, whites and other racial groupings.
Have you heard this one? A sociologist, a lawyer, and a biologist walk into a bar, scoot their stools up to the counter, order drinks, and begin to chat. Suddenly, a booming voice (God, the bartender?) envelops them. “What is the meaning of race?” the voice asks.
While the question may seem straightforward on its face, it quickly spawns further questions, often vexing. Is race purely a political construct, or is it biologically encoded? Certainly there are aspects of human biology—skin color, hair color, the presence or absence of epicanthic folds, etc.—that are commonly associated with racial differences, but is race just the sum of these physical features, with all of the overlaps, exceptions, and ambiguities they involve? How do genes factor into the story? And what connection—if any—is there between biological markers of race and the social experiences of racial groups?
Each of the three drinking buddies has a lot to say to God or Sam Malone, and, by the way, their responses don’t end in laugh lines. The biologist, Richard Francis, engages other issues, though his concerns directly affect how we answer the loud voice. But the sociologist, Ann Morning, and the lawyer, Dorothy Roberts, are narrowly focused on the science of race and how medicine mediates racial experience. And with good reason: in the United States people of a darker hue (on average) die sooner than pink-skinned people. They are afflicted with higher rates of particular diseases, such as high blood pressure, strokes, and kidney failure. So the race you’re born with, or, rather, which race you are born into, might mean a healthier, longer life—or not.
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